Mount Airy Middle's air-conditioning cost higher than expected


Installing air conditioning at Mount Airy Middle School will be a lot more costly than Carroll County officials originally estimated and will require money allocated to other projects to make up the shortfall.

County commissioners approved a transfer yesterday of nearly $1.3 million to the project that will install air conditioning in the nearly 50-year-old building. The transfer, some of which is money remaining from completed projects, will allow the county school board to proceed with awarding a contract.

Final cost for the project is estimated at $2.1 million, with the state contributing $400,000. The original estimate, which did not include the gym, was $670,000.

"The bids are far, far higher than we appropriated, partially because we did not include the gym in the project," Ted Zaleski, director of management and budget, told the commissioners yesterday. "Part of the problem is the rising costs in the construction environment today and an estimate that was too old. We should have updated."

While Carroll's newer schools were built with air conditioning, several of the older buildings do not have it. The combination of hot weather and crowded classrooms do not make for a good learning environment, said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich.

"It becomes insufferable on the sunny side of those buildings without air conditioning," Minnich said. "It is not like when I was a kid, with classrooms that had high ceilings and long windows."

Compounding the problem, Zaleski said, "on both ends of the calendar, we have moved further into hot weather."

The county is working to air-condition or keep air conditioning operating in all 41 school buildings and has set aside about $2 million annually since 1999 for that purpose. But given the recent cost for one school, Zaleski said that "we may need to re-evaluate that number."

Several other school buildings with original air-conditioning equipment may soon need upgrades or entirely new systems. Westminster High School, the system's largest building, which opened more than 30 years ago, could soon be in line for a complete replacement of its air-conditioning system.

"The prices are staggering, and $2 million for Mount Airy is not out of line," Zaleski said. "Just thinking about what Westminster will cost sends chills down my back. This problem is not going away. We have schools coming on line with failing systems, and once that happens we have to respond immediately."

Minnich said delays only result in higher costs.

"You can pay me now or pay me more later," Minnich said. "We have delayed things that we know we need, and it will cost us more later. It's false conservatism."

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